All About Mulch

What is Mulch?

Mulch is any (ideally, organic) substance that you can spread or lay over the surface of your soil as a covering.  Use it to keep moisture in your earth, suppress weeds, keep soil cool and also to make the garden bed look more attractive. A key benefit to organic mulches is that they help improve your soil’s fertility as they decompose.

Examples of organic mulches include:

  • Bark, Shredded or
    Chipped
  • Compost and Composted
    Manure
  • Grass Clippings
  • Newspaper
  • Shredded Leaves
  • Straw

Organic mulch will decompose and have to be replaced but,
in the process it will also improve your soil’s fertility. Generally, the dryer
and woodier the mulch, the slower it will decompose and the less nutrients it
will give to the soil.

TIP: Be sure your mulch is weed seedling free.

How to use your mulch:

  • Bark mulches are
    best used around trees, shrubs and anywhere you won’t be doing a lot of
    digging.  Elect to use woody mulches
    where you know it will mix well into the soil and you know you don’t
    intend to move it later to make way for new plants.
  • Compost and Composted
    Manure
    can be used anywhere as long as they are weed free. You can use
    them as a coating of mulch or simply side dress plants with them during
    the growing season to insulate and give a boost of slow released
    nutrients.
  • Grass Clippings
    are a mixed bag and worthy of a warning because of the slimy consistency
    that gets matted down and restricts water from passing while creating an
    unpleasant odor as they decompose.
    For this reason, clippings are best suited to remote areas of your
    garden where you basically want to suppress weeds and don’t have high
    traffic.

TIP: The best way to use grass clippings is
to use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the lawn to add fertility to
that soil. Best plan; place untreated grass clippings into your compost bin or
unplanted areas.

  • Newspaper as
    mulch is not new and is increasing in popularity because many newspapers
    have switched to using organic dyes, especially for their black &
    white sections. The art of mulching with shredded newspaper traditionally
    works well because it keeps plant roots moist while shipping.  And, layered sheets are effective at suppressing weeds and controlling soil temperatures.  Newspaper is also great for smothering existing grass and jump starting a new garden bed.

TIP: Moisten (4-8)
sheets to keep them in place and cover the newspaper with a 1-3 inch layer of
another organic mulch material and your weed protection should last throughout
the growing season.

  • Shredded Leaves
    are natures favorite mulch. Shredded leaves can be used as mulch anywhere
    and have the added bonus of being free. I have never had so many earth
    worms in my flower gardens as I’ve had since I started using shredded leaf
    mulch about 3 years ago. Even my compost pile doesn’t have as much
    activity as under these leaves.

TIP: Spread a layer in the spring, before plants spread out, the leaf mulch tends to blend
into the view within a short time. Spread a layer over your vegetable garden in
the fall and it will begin decomposing over the winter.

  • Straw and Salt Hay
    have always been popular mulches for the vegetable garden. They keep the
    soil and soil born diseases from splashing up on lower plant leaves and
    make paths less muddy. Straw decomposes very slowly and will last the
    entire growing season. It also makes a nice home for spiders and other
    beneficial insects who will move in and help keep the pest population in
    control. And finally, it’s easy to either rake up or work into the soil
    when it’s time to plant a new crop or put the vegetable garden to bed.